Mary Russell’s War (eight): the wickedness of dogs

Young Mary Russell’s journal of the Great War, which began on August 4, 1914 continues. Her previous entries are here.

Downtown San Francisco.

Downtown San Francisco.

22 September 1914

Disaster! Calamity! Oh, how I loathe dogs!

Who’d have expected a German spy to have a poodle? Father shouted at me—shouted!—and said that I was fortunate it hadn’t been an Alsatian, which might have taken off my leg. Mother—well, Mother went silent, and sits in her morning room, white with fury.

It took me four afternoons of following men leaving the Consulate before I located a likely suspect for being a spy, based on the relative affluence of the home, the lack of signs of having a family, and the way he left his street-side curtains shut even during the day. Only because it has been warm was the transom window over Herr Schmidt’s (there was another reason for suspicion: are people actually named Smith or Jones?) front door left unlatched, although as access to the man’s secrets and valuables, that window would have been inadequate for even a medium-sized burglar. For someone of my girth, however, I did not anticipate any problem. With Levi’s assistance, I dressed in black trousers and dark shirt, and left the house as soon as the parents were abed.

The poodle caught me standing at the desk of Herr “Schmidt”. The man himself caught my ankle as I pulled myself up to the door, and had it not been for the brutish application of force, and the presence of a butler, I might have succeeded in kicking myself free. The police were called, my parents roused from their beds, and…I doubt I shall ever rid myself of those memories, so I shall not dwell on them here in this written account. Suffice to say, I am condemned to my house, and my war work, for the time, is over. A recent issue of the Chronicle informed its readers that the Prince of Wales will not be permitted to fight, either, I suppose for fear of the consequences should he be taken prisoner. Never did I suspect that I should have anything in common with the next King of England.

I may give up reading the news entirely, for it seems to alternate between joyous declarations that the Allies are pushing the Kaiser back, fearful warnings that the German army is on the point of overrunning key English and French positions, and blithe promises that the Kaiser is on the point of agreeing to talk over peace terms. And as to the regular reports of extreme behaviour on the part of the Kaiser’s soldiers, an American Writer who visited the Front says otherwise:


Worst Behavior of German Soldiers in Belgium Was Kissing of Pretty Girls

…In less than twenty-four hours the Belgian citizens were chatting comfortably with the German invaders, and the allegation of German brutality and demonical torture dissolved into one of the myths which have accompanied all wars.

Clearly, one cannot trust the newspapers. When, that is, one can find them. Papa has taken to burning the news once he has read it (forcing me to borrow those of old Mrs Adderley down the street, one of the few places I am permitted outside of the house, after my plea of my company being necessary to the welfare of the poor old woman—who in fact is neither poor nor lonely, having a house full of servants and more friends than I do.)

Mama, when she can bear to address me directly, has begun urging me to discuss it all with her friend Dr Ginzberg.

But really, what is there to say to a mind-doctor? It is not I who has gone mad, but the world.


  1. Robert Difley on September 22, 2014 at 8:02 am

    I’m with you Mary Russell. It is not I who has gone mad, but the world. But in the future in exposing spies, be advised that anyone that owns a poodle dog is likely a spy, or at the very least, not to be trusted.

  2. Carol Rogers on September 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I am loving these glimpses into Mary Russelll as a girl and eagerly await each new one. I have adored Sherlock Holmes for my entire life and Mary Russell and the Laurie R. king’s novels bring me such joy. I only wish she could write faster!

  3. Carol Rogers on September 22, 2014 at 9:59 am

    I just wanted to mention that my son, Rob, was also infected with my interest in mystery and Sherlock Holmes at an early age. His story “The Adventure of the Pirates of Devil’s Cape” is included in “The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” an anthology that also included Laurie R. King’s “Mrs. Hudson’s Case.”

  4. Merrily Taylor on September 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Shocking – did that poodle not realize that it should be fighting on the side of the French and British! ? Traitorous dog! But, this incident does serve to illustrate that Mary Russell’s raw talent needed to be taken in hand by Sherlock Holmes, who doubtless would have advised her to do more reconnaissance around the dwelling, lest there be a dog on the premises…and to carry a nice piece of beef with her…

  5. LauraS on September 29, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Merrily, oddly enough the Poodle was originally bred as a German water retriever. They weren’t French at all! The “haircuts” that we think look so strange were to minimize the weight of the dog in the water while still protecting the joints, brain, heart, lungs and kidneys from the cold. The little tuft on the tail was the “bobber” that stuck up out of the water while the dog was looking for birds. (I didn’t know this either until I started reading the “Melanie Travis” mystery series by Laurien Berenson. The protagonist’s family breeds show poodles.)

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